SXSW 2015: He Never Died is a Bloody, Hilarious and Smart Slice of Supernatural Noir

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Jack (Henry Rollins) is something of a loner. He eats at the same diner every day, he plays Bingo at the same church every week and he meets the same immoral hospital intern every few days to buy… something. He has little need for anyone else but that begins to change when two women come into his life. Cara (Kate Greenhouse) is a waitress at the diner, and while Jack is a man of few words he’s still managed to hit it off with her to some small degree. Andrea’s (Jordan Todosey) face is brand new to him, but an angry phone call from an old fling he hasn’t heard from in roughly nineteen years informs him that the girl at his door is his daughter.

His life suddenly grows busier and far more complicated, and the trend continues when he finds himself targeted by a series of low-level henchmen for reasons unknown. It’s probably a good thing his body seems to heal from beatings, knife wounds and bullet holes in an almost instantaneous manner.

Writer/director Jason Krawczyk’s feature debut is a dryly comic and brutally violent gem with a fascinating central character. The truth about Jack is revealed slowly through turns big and small, and the final revelation serves to enhance the character and his situation rather than simply act as some big turning point in the narrative.

It’s a tale about criminals, their crimes and the cost of those infractions with an antihero less interested in redemption than he is in getting a cup of hot tea and a plate of eggplant Parmesan. Jack is capable of violent extremes – one sequence finds him trying in comic vain to find someone worthy of striking down in the street only to have everyone be so frustratingly nice to him, but on the flip-side he also tells one bad guy “I’ve killed nine-year-olds for no reason at all, what makes you think you have a chance?”

Rollins has been acting since the ’90s, but his role here is his best, biggest and most well-suited to an artist with strength coiled and ready beneath the surface. It doesn’t require great depth of character – in fact the very nature of it demands a more blunt focus – and Rollins’ dry delivery is a perfect match for a man with Jack’s particular past, present and future. The only real emotion Jack displays comes when he’s very, very angry, and Rollins is no stranger to raising his voice in an intense manner.

Limited budget prevents us from seeing some of the action – we get the beginning of an interaction and then the end result – but the violent interactions we do experience are well-choreographed and paired with plenty of blood and bone-crunching sound design. The low budget doesn’t get in the way of the film’s overall look though meaning it avoids the forced stylization so prevalent in small thrillers to deliver action and interaction in real, tangible locations.

In some ways the film feels like an installment in Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” series of novels, and that’s a sincere compliment especially for a film of this scale. Jack’s a capable man with a past who finds himself caught up in a tale populated by evildoers and people in need, and while he prefers to avoid conflict he will jump into the fray if he deems it necessary.

He Never Died is laugh out loud funny thanks almost exclusively to Rollins’ delivery and reaction shots, but the acts of violence and character details are just as entertaining. It’s a darkly comic thriller that also serves as a fantastic introduction to a character I hope we see again soon.

The Upside: Extremely funny; some fun and bloody action bits; smart character growth and tease

The Downside: Much of the action is offscreen, presumably for budgetary reasons; more of a character piece than a full narrative arc

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